Scott Brooks issued the warning several weeks ago. The Washington Wizards’ coach meant it when he spoke about the grind of the games following the NBA all-star break. After most Wizards enjoyed six days off, the rotational players needed to lace up their sneakers and prepare for a rigorous push to the postseason. Rest be damned.
“If you didn’t get rest then,” Brooks said after the team’s Feb. 21 practice, “you’re not going to get it coming up.”
True to his coach’s word, Bradley Beal, who likely had the busiest All-Star Weekend of anyone on the Wizards’ roster, has rarely sat in the team’s seven games since the break. Washington has needed more of Beal because point guard John Wall, who has missed four weeks because of left knee surgery, has yet to return to even light shooting workouts on the court. In the 16 games without Wall, Beal is tied with fellow all-stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the most minutes per game (37.9) in the league.
So, has the minutes load affected Beal’s production? On Monday afternoon, a day after Beal logged 43 minutes and sloppily closed the fourth quarter of a three-point loss to the Indiana Pacers, Brooks was asked several questions concerning the fatigue level of his one healthy all-star.
“I have to do a better job,” Brooks said, sharing his reaction to Beal admitting that he was “tired” following the 98-95 loss. “Forty-three is a big number, especially if it’s not a national televised game. Those games are different because it seems like there are 10-minute timeouts. But I think he’s comfortable with 37 to 38. [I] try to keep him at 36, but we’re only talking about a few minutes. Everybody’s tired. If you play hard, you should be tired. … It’s just part of playing hard. It’s part of being on a good team. It’s part of being in a winning environment.”
Even so, this environment is seemingly placing Beal in precarious situations.
The Wizards had 11 available players Sunday, including three point guards: Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier and Ramon Sessions. Satoransky, the starter in place of Wall, dealt with foul trouble and didn’t play a minute in the fourth quarter. Frazier checked out before four minutes had passed in the final frame. Sessions, an 11-year ballhandling veteran, didn’t play for the sixth straight game.
That left Beal, a natural shooting guard, to play the lead guard role for the final 8:22. Early in that stretch, Beal appeared fine — dishing two of his career-high 11 assists and nailing a step-back jumper. But he finished the game with two costly turnovers and five straight misses from the field, including the potential game-tying shot in the final seconds.
“I can do a better job of finding some minutes late in the third quarter or early fourth to find him a five-minute break,” Brooks said Monday.
Judging from Brooks’s background — an undrafted grinder in the late 1980s who crafted a decade-long NBA career because he outworked and cared more than other players — he may seem to have an unsympathetic ear if a player dares to mention being tired. Even last year, while speaking generally about the leaguewide trend of resting players late in the season, Brooks was blunt.
“There’s certain cases and certain examples and certain players that probably need it. But that’s very rare in my opinion,” he said at the time. “You’re talking basketball. It’s 32 minutes a night. This is not hard work. This is fun. Rest, to me, rest is a good night sleep.”
Brooks does monitor minutes — but in another way. Brooks and his staff place credence in a player’s overall load and will rest starters such as Beal and Otto Porter Jr. in practices and shoot-arounds. This practice in limiting the load, not just game minutes, is backed up by Dr. Tim Gabbett, an applied sport scientist based in Australia.
“One of the biggest misconceptions around load management is that it always means athletes playing fewer minutes … rather than obsessing over playing minutes, perhaps we should focus more on the quality and quantity of training that is performed in preparation for those minutes,” Gabbett wrote in a recent article on his website.
On Monday, Brooks reiterated the team’s practice of limiting a player on days off so that he will perform his best in games.
“We’ve found ways to be more efficient in practice without putting a lot of wear and tear and heavy loads on the bodies. That factors in, the shoot-arounds factor in, the days off factor in, but it’s easy for people to look at just the minutes. But everything is all part of the pie,” Brooks said. “It’s just not the game minutes. But there are going to be nights where you have to [play a lot]. We were down 17.”
Washington indeed trailed 80-63 in the closing seconds of the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Beal had played all 12 minutes of the third, and the lingering deficit kept him on the floor from the start of the fourth until the final buzzer. Without Wall, Beal remains the team’s best play-creating and shot-making option. And though Brooks put the onus on himself in “doing a better job” to clear up minutes, the fact remains: If Beal didn’t get rest during the all-star break, he’s not going to get much coming up.
Sessions gets a second 10-day contract
The Wizards re-signed Sessions to a second 10-day contract Monday.
The backup point guard has not played in any of Washington’s six games since he was signed Feb. 23
“He hasn’t played but he gives us the ability if we need an extra point guard, ballhandler, playmaker on the floor, we will have him,” Brooks said. “We have him for 10 more days. My job is to try and find him some minutes, see if he’s the guy that can help the rest of the way.”
Sessions, who has previously played with the Wizards for 1 1/2 seasons as Wall’s primary backup, participated in Monday’s practice and despite not getting into a game described himself as “excited” to return for another stint.
“It’s a new journey for me with the 10 days,” Sessions said. “D.C. was a place that rescued me in a situation in Sacramento [in 2014] and gave me a chance and had a great year and a half here.”
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